Debbie Harry, Diamanda Galás Outraged by Sentencing of Woman Who Killed Former Vocal Coach

Blondie’s Debbie Harry and avant-garde performer Diamanda Galás are outraged by the sentencing of the woman who fatally shoved 87-year-old vocal coach Barbara Joan Gustern on a street outside her New York City apartment in 2022.

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On March 10, 2022, Lauren Pazienza, 27, deliberately shoved Gustern, whom she didn’t know, onto a street outside of her Chelsea apartment in New York City, which caused the vocal coach to suffer severe brain damage. Though Gustern was conscious following the incident and was able to talk with police, her condition quickly deteriorated, and she died five days later.

Pazienza pleaded guilty to a first-degree manslaughter charge and was sentenced to eight years in prison on Wednesday (August 23). Her sentencing includes an additional five years of supervision following her release.

Harry remembered her former vocal coach as a “beloved and respected resident of NYC for over 40 years. A petite 87-year-old woman with boundless enthusiasm for life, she was an inspiration to her students and a devoted member of her local church. Her contributions to the arts and her community were immeasurable.”

Along with coaching Galás and Harry, Gustern also worked with Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna, playwright Taylor Mac, Broadway performers, including cast members from the 2019 Tony-winning revival of Oklahoma!, and numerous performers within the theater and cabaret community throughout her career.

The Blondie singer’s sentiment soon turned to outrage when discussing Pazienza’s sentencing. “It’s incomprehensible that proper justice for her murder was not delivered,” said Harry. “The city’s failure to administer adequate punishment — settling for a plea deal that will likely see Lauren Prienza serve less than eight years for murder — is a disservice to Barbara and the contributions she made to this city. It falls far short of a deserving consequence and fitting penalty.”

Harry continued, “Will this affect how other New Yorkers feel safer? In most cases, this crime would not have been given a plea deal — probably Murder 2 instead of Manslaughter. This is not an appropriate punishment for murder in my mind.”

Also infuriated by Pazienza’s recent sentencing, Galás condemned the court decision in a lengthy post on her Facebook and Instagram pages. “Over a year ago, one of NYC’s great teachers of the voice, Barbara Maier Gustern, was executed by a sociopath in a nice dress,” wrote Galás. “Barbara Maier was executed first for being ‘in the way,’ and her fine name was executed repeatedly for the same reason. She did not die as an ‘outstanding teacher of the voice.’ She died under the appellation of ‘granny,’ “‘grandmother,’ and ‘frail old lady.’ She was flattened onto the pavement into obscurity by the sociopath in the nice dress, the press, and the law.”

Galás added, “Gustern was killed by a high-society debutante, who was rescued from a life sentence by her father, a cesspool magnate. He makes big money. The disposal of sewage will always rank higher in importance than the execution of an ‘aging’ voice teacher. The punishment of Lauren Pazienza was the presumed natural lifespan, minus time-lived, of the murdered Barbara Maier, minus the time served of the killer: eight years.”

Gustern was still coaching out of her apartment, sometimes working 10-hour days prior to her death. The evening she was pushed, she was on her way to see one of her students perform at Joe’s Pub in New York City.

[RELATED: Top 10 Debbie Harry Solo Songs]

In 2019, Gustern attended Bikini Kill’s 2019 reunion shows in Brooklyn, and Hanna remembered seeing her former vocal coach backstage. “When she [Gustern] is in your audience, she’s who the whole show is for in your head,” said Hanna. “And I had to take the advice she had given me and pretend she wasn’t there so I could be present. After the show, she came backstage and there were all kinds of cool people there and she was the one I ran to immediately and just stared into her eyes and was like, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you. I felt you with me tonight.’”

Hanna added, “Hugging her afterward was one of the happiest moments of my life. Just being able to thank her and remind her how much I loved her.”

Pazienza will be officially sentenced on September 29.

Photo: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for Tribeca Festival

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